Effects of previous actions. Karma (Sanskrit, also karman, Pāli: kamma) is a Sanskrit term that literally means "action" or "doing". Karma (IPA: [ˈkərmə]; Pali: kamma) means action, work or deed; it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering. Karma is closely associated with the idea of rebirth in some schools of Asian religions. In these schools, karma in the present affects one's future in the current life, as well as the nature and quality of future lives - or, one's saṃsāra.
With origins in ancient India, it is a key concept in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Taoism.
The concept of karma in Hinduism developed and evolved over centuries. The earliest Upanishads began with the questions about how and why man is born, and what happens after death. As answers to the latter, the early theories in these ancient Sanskrit documents include pancagni vidya (the five fire doctrine), pitryana (the cyclic path of fathers) and devayana (the cycle-transcending, path of the gods). Those who do superficial rituals and seek material gain, claimed these ancient scholars, travel the way of their fathers and recycle back into another life; those who renounce these, go into the forest and pursue spiritual knowledge, were claimed to climb into the higher path of the gods. It is these who break the cycle and are not reborn. With the composition of the Epics - the common man's introduction to Dharma in Hinduism - the ideas of causality and essential elements of the theory of karma were being recited in folk stories. For example:
As a man himself sows, so he himself reaps; no man inherits the good or evil act of another man. The fruit is of the same quality as the action.
In the thirteenth book of the Mahabharata, also called the Teaching Book (Anushasana Parva), sixth chapter opens with Yudhisthira asking Bhisma: "Is the course of a person's life already destined, or can human effort shape one's life?" The future, replies Bhisma, is both a function of current human effort derived from free will and past human actions that set the circumstances.Over and over again, the chapters of Mahabharata recite the key postulates of karma theory. That is: intent and action (karma) has consequences; karma lingers and doesn't disappear; and, all positive or negative experiences in life require effort and intent.For example:
Happiness comes due to good actions, suffering results from evil actions,
by actions, all things are obtained, by inaction, nothing whatsoever is enjoyed.
If one's action bore no fruit, then everything would be of no avail,
if the world worked from fate alone, it would be neutralized.
—Mahabharata, xiii.6.10 & 19
Over time, various schools of Hinduism developed many different definitions of karma, some making karma appear quite deterministic, while others make room for free will and moral agency.Among the six most studied schools of Hinduism, the theory of karma evolved in different ways, as their respective scholars reasoned and attempted to address the internal inconsistencies, implications and issues of the karma doctrine. According to Halbfass,
- The Nyaya school of Hinduism considers karma and rebirth as central, with some Nyaya scholars such as Udayana suggesting that the Karma doctrine implies that God exists.
- The Vaisesika school does not consider the karma from past lives doctrine very important.
- The Samkhya school considers karma to be of secondary importance (prakrti is primary).
- The Mimamsa school gives a negligible role to karma from past lives, disregards Samsara and Moksa.
- The Yoga school considers karma from past lives to be secondary, one's behavior and psychology in the current life is what has consequences and leads to entanglements.
- According to Professor Wilhelm Halbfass, the Vedanta school acknowledges the karma-rebirth doctrine, but concludes it is a theory that is not derived from reality and cannot be proven, considers it invalid for its failure to explain evil / inequality / other observable facts about society, treats it as a convenient fiction to solve practical problems in Upanishadic times, and declares it irrelevant; in the Advaita Vedanta school, actions in current life have moral consequences and liberation is possible within one's life as jivanmukti (self-realized person).
The above six schools illustrate the diversity of views, but are not exhaustive. Each school has sub-schools in Hinduism, such as Vedanta school's nondualism and dualism sub-schools. Furthermore, there are other schools of Hinduism such as Carvaka, Lokayata (the materialists) who denied the theory of karma-rebirth as well as the existence of God; to this school of Hindus, the properties of things come from the nature of things. Causality emerges from the interaction, actions and nature of things and people, determinative principles such as karma or God are unnecessary.
In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to action driven by intention (cetanā) which leads to future consequences. Those intentions are considered to be the determining factor in the kind of rebirth in samsara, the cycle of rebirth.
Karma and karmaphala are fundamental concepts in Buddhism. The concepts of karma and karmaphala explain how our intentional actions keep us tied to rebirth in samsara, whereas the Buddhist path, as exemplified in the Noble Eightfold Path, shows us the way out of samsara. Karmaphala is the "fruit", "effect" or "result" of karma. A similar term is karmavipaka, the "maturation" or "cooking" of karma. The cycle of rebirth is determined by karma, literally "action". In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to actions drive by intention (cetanā), a deed done deliberately through body, speech or mind, which leads to future consequences. The Nibbedhika Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya 6.63:
Intention (cetana) I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.
How these intentional actions lead to rebirth, and how the idea of rebirth is to be reconciled with the doctrines of impermanence and no-self, is a matter of philosophical inquiry in the Buddhist traditions, for which several solutions have been proposed. In early Buddhism no explicit theory of rebirth and karma is worked out, and "the karma doctrine may have been incidental to early Buddhist soteriology." In early Buddhism, rebirth is ascribed to craving or ignorance. The Buddha's teaching of karma is not strictly deterministic, but incorporated circumstantial factors, unlike that of the Jains. It is not a rigid and mechanical process, but a flexible, fluid and dynamic process. There is no set linear relationship between a particular action and its results. The karmic effect of a deed is not determined solely by the deed itself, but also by the nature of the person who commits the deed, and by the circumstances in which it is committed. Karmaphala is not a "judgement" enforced by a God, Deity or other supernatural being that controls the affairs of the Cosmos. Rather, karmaphala is the outcome of a natural process of cause and effect. Within Buddhism, the real importance of the doctrine of karma and its fruits lies in the recognition of the urgency to put a stop to the whole process. The Acintita Sutta warns that "the results of kamma" is one of the four incomprehensible subjects, subjects that are beyond all conceptualization and cannot be understood with logical thought or reason.